Although last season was a mixed bag for Jimmy Adams’ Kent, there is reason to be optimistic for this season’s prospects and the future.
The Spitfires excelled in the newly introduced Royal London One Day Cup – losing one group game and reaching the semi-finals while a good start in the Twenty20 format eventually petered out. The most disappointing though was the side’s performance in the four-day game where they heavily underperformed.
Rob Key’s side went on an unbeaten run after losing their opening County Championship match and after an emphatic victory over pre-season favourites Surrey, many thought Kent would push on for a great finish. Inconsistent performances crept in and they just couldn’t find their feet finishing in sixth.
The Spitfires finished second in their group on net run rate in the fifty-over format. After going unbeaten in seven of the eight group matches, Kent finally succumbed to their only loss in the final group game to Middlesex. On their way to the semi-final they handed defeat to eventual champions Durham, an impressive Sussex side and oversaw Gloucestershire in the quarters. They were beaten by six-wickets at the helm of Warwickshire in the semis but the one-day cup hinted at Kent’s young potential.
It was a similar story to the red ball game for Kent in the Natwest T20 Blast. They enjoyed a great start winning three from four but the side plummeted into a run of six winless matches. The Spitfires finished again with three wins from their last four, missing out on a knock-out place by two points.
Kent are continuing with their home-grown policy this season. Fourteen members of the twenty-three man squad have come through the youth ranks – even more are originally from Kent. It highlights their intention to deliver success with a local side. Despite making profits last season, the plan is to not sign an overseas player for this campaign, further showing their ambition to produce success with home-grown players.
This could be the season in which Kent delivers their first piece of silverware since 2007. The likes of Sam Billings and Adam Riley have been involved with England over the winter; both are key to Kent’s success this season. Likewise James Tredwell is likely to be in and out of England reckoning this summer.
Ins: Joe Denly (Middlesex), Matt Coles (Hampshire), Ryan Davies (Youth), Sam Weller (Youth)
Outs: Geraint Jones (Gloucestershire), Mark Davies (Retired)
A player that came upon leaps and bounds last season was wicket-keeper batsman Sam Billings. He managed to force ex-England international Geraint Jones out of the squad in all three formats as he impressed behind the wicket and in front. Billings scored 1455 runs across the three formats while also recording 81 dismissals; an impressive feat.
Billings finished with the best average in the Royal London One Day Cup with 114.50 from nine matches. He particularly impressed at Taunton with a scorching 46-ball century before ending unbeaten on 135 from 58 deliveries. Billings was compared to England’s current international wicket-keeper Jos Buttler due to similarities in their hard-hitting, aggressive and innovative batting style by Somerset captain Marcus Trescothick. With one hundred and four centuries, the 23-year old finished with 458 runs.
He took the second highest amount of dismissals in the red ball game with 56, although that included more stumpings than any other wicket-keeper in the division. He scored 755 runs at an average of 34.31, which isn’t too bad when you look at the squad as a whole. He will see this as an opportunity to build though and as the definite starter behind the stumps this year, he can certainly reach the 1,000 run mark.
Billings didn’t quite hit the ground running in the twenty-over format but with the vast array of extrovert shots he displayed in the one-day cup, you can tell that he could easily let loose this season.
Player to Watch
Adam Riley attracted the interest of England following an Ashes whitewash in Australia and the retirement of Graeme Swann. Despite opting for Moeen Ali as their frontline spinner, it is clear why the 23-year old was invited on the Lions tour this winter.
In the four-day game he took 48 wickets at an average of 32.58 with a respectable economy rate of 3.39. He was rarely used in the short format as Jimmy Adams sees his red ball skills of higher quality. Riley’s presence forced James Tredwell to seek match opportunities at Sussex for half of the season. In the 2013 campaign, he took an excellent 7 wickets for just fifty runs against Hampshire while averaging 27 in the county championship. At such a young age, Riley has time to develop but it’s clear that this young spinner can do damage. His height allows him to do plenty with bounce and with many variations there’s no reason why he can’t impress yet again this season.
Despite making decent profits for the year, Kent have opted not to sign an overseas player this season. It highlights the ambition to breed through the young Kentish talent that have come through the youth ranks. Doug Bollinger did say at the end of his spell last season that he’d love a return to the Spitfires, so watch this space.
How they’ll fare
Kent’s goal is promotion out of Division Two, and they’ll have to improve drastically on last season. Though, the signing of Joe Denly fills a much needed hole at the top of the order and Matt Coles gives Jimmy Adams plenty to think about. The batsmen particularly underperformed last season but if they can perform consistently then I think the Spitfires can come close to meeting their target in the long format.
They performed admirably in the Royal London One Day Cup last time out and this is where they can do best this season. The form of Billings could go a long way in deciding how far Kent get in this competition. Making the quarter-finals would be considered somewhat a success.
The Spitfires improved ever so slightly in the Natwest T20 Blast but ultimately they just weren’t good enough. Too often they started too slow, leaving the middle order with it all to do. Big hitting Coles has returned which will help out that middle order for sure. They should aim to make the knock-out stages this time out.
vs Essex, Sunday 19th April at Chelmsford
LV County Championship Division Two: 8/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 20/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 25/1